CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers picked Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown with the seventh overall pick in the first round of NFL Draft, and their hope is he bolsters a unit that was ravaged in free agency and in dire need of an upgrade.
The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Brown was a first-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-SEC selection as a senior, as well as a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy. He had 55 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss along with four sacks, four pass breakups and forced two fumbles for the Tigers
The Panthers were in need of a defensive tackle after Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler left via free agency, leaving Kawann Short as the only returner at that position. Short is a two-time Pro Bowl selection but did not play last season due to a shoulder injury.
Brown joins a Panthers team in the midst of a rebuild after parting ways with several key players, including quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, tight Greg Olsen, defensive end Mario Addison and cornerback James Bradberry earlier this offseason.
The last time the Panthers took a player from Auburn in the first round was Newton in 2011 — and he went on to earn league MVP honors in 2015 while leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl. The Panthers released Newton in a move that saved them more than $19 million under the NFL salary cap.
They have replaced him with Teddy Bridgewater.
The Panthers are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, leading to the firing of two-time Associated Press coach of the year Ron Rivera with four games left in the 2019 season.
The Panthers entered the draft needing to upgrade their defense after losing nine starters from last year’s team. Carolina added defensive end Stephen Weatherly, linebacker Tahir Whitehead and defensive back Juston Burris in free agency, but their losses fair outweighed their additions.
The Panthers turned over their defense after allowing 29.4 points per game last season, second-most in the NFL.
Brown gives the Panthers a powerful and strong player who can take up two blockers up front, which should help free up Short, who is considered one of the better defensive tackles in the league when healthy.